Friday, 6 July 2012
Peru GapBreakers explore the Amazon
PROJECT: Teaching & Building
WRITTEN BY: Lauren Collee
It is with a bit of regret that we see July, the "month of Cusco" come to a close here. These past few weeks, we have become so used to daily fiestas in the main square, seeing men and women of all ages in traditional dress hop on the bus with a euphonium or ceremonial llama foetus, the whole city in a state of fiesta, that suddenly things are going to seem a little quiet in comparison. Not that I thought ´quiet´ could ever be a word I used in regards to Cusco.
We did have a brief break from all these celebrations last week when we headed off to the amazon for 5 days. Faced with the prospect of another overnight bus-ride, we were careful to prepare properly this time - Lucy Holm, remembering a night so cold that not even the foetal position could provide relief packed up all her jumpers, jackets, beanies. It was a rude shock when about half way through the heat of the lowlands struck, and suddenly we wished and wished that a window somewhere would open. We disembarked at 5.a.m; so confused by the change in temperature and so tired from the lack of sleep that I heard Karina say "I’m not sure whether to be hot or cold". It wasn’t long before she decided - the smell of our bus clothes must have been one clue.
We wandered around the steaming city of Puerto Maldonado in the early morning mist for a bit, trying to soak up the culture but really just sincerely wishing for a cold shower. Popping in to a hotel to use a bathroom for a bit, we saw a sloth sitting high up in one of the palm trees in the open-air centre. Hunting down one in the wild then became Fogl´s obsession for the week.
After a half an hour boat ride, we arrived at our lodge - popping out of the jungle onto the "madre de dios" river, it was everything we expected of the amazon - leaf-roof bungalows, cold showers, mosquito nets and candles as our primary light source. We soon realised that our plan of taking a few rest hours didn’t fit into the guides itinerary, however, so soon enough we piled back into our long motor boat (which was in severe danger of capsising if there weren’t equal numbers of people on both sides) to head 15 minutes down river to the lodge where we would eat all our meals and spend most of every day... it had hammocks.
Summing up everything we did in those 5 days in less than a couple of thousand words would be impossible, but among them were Tree canopy walks, ziplining (from rickety platforms which we were in no way strapped on to…this was an "ah, Peru" moment for us), fishing for piranhas with makeshift tree-branch rods, monkey sighting, parrot-watching at sunrise (which Holm claims she slept the whole way through) and a visit to an "Amazonian tribe" who taught us how to shoot bows and arrows…and undoubtedly changed as soon as we left from their Amazonian costumes into the regular clothes we could see on the washing line through the trees. Our guides were good-natured Peruvians who took good care of us on the whole, all though one of them had a sarcasm that we could not figure out and the other one freaked us out sometimes with his little wild Amazonian habits, such as squishing an enormous ant between his fingers and feeding it to his dog.
In the lodge, we were in no way sheltered from the jungle that surrounded us. One morning at breakfast, we were all forced to evacuate our seats with embarrassing squeals when a terrifyingly large hairy spider crawled onto the table. Chaz had a rabies scare when the lodge's half-domesticated anteater-thing scratched him, and there was a monkey called lalo who spooned us in our hammocks and tried to suckle Sam P. We would go on frequent walks into the thick of the jungle, and once, despite being accompanied by our guide, got a little lost in the humid undergrowth. Holm and Fogl chose to while away the time with a discussion, very appropriate to our situation, about who would win an Antipodeans hunger games in the amazon.
One noteworthy highlight of our trip definitely would have to be the frequent Amazonian mudbaths - we all returned to Cusco with Baby-bottom-smooth skin. To the horror of the other tourists in our boat, we would dive headfirst into craters of warm mud on the beach, and completely cover ourselves in it... Sam Pauletto had a knack of making himself look unnervingly like a newly born child emerging from the womb. Afterwards, we would wash off in the wonderfully warm river - the same one we would go caiman-hunting in every night. We asked our guide if there were anacondas and piranhas in it, and chose to ignore that the answer was yes. But we were forced to confront our fears when we spoke to an English woman staying at our lodge who had a suspicious limp and worryingly large bandage on her foot - she told us that a piranha had taken a chunk out of her toe at Sandoval Lake, which we visited and swam in the very next day.
Coming back to Cusco, we found the city had reached fever-pitch in the lead up to Sunday's Inti Raymi. On Wednesday night, we went to a concert in the main square, and experienced the most intense mosh pit of our lives - I was literally scared for my ability to breathe. On Friday, Avenida Del Sol was closed off to an enormous street parade, the highlight of which for me had to be the massive sculpture of two guinea-pigs doin' the dirty.
Then came Sunday - the world wide renowned Festival of the Sun, in which an Inca-king impersonator and dozens of costumed singers and dancers head up from the main square to the Sacsayhuaman ruins. We walked up that mother of a hill to Christo Blanco 3.5 hours before it was scheduled to start, having been warned that at least 150 000 people would try to pile in before 1pm. The usually bare grassy area was covered with sellers of jelly, guinea pig, cow heart skewers and boiled potatoes, and the hills overlooking the space where the festival was to take place were already covered in picnic blankets and patient early-risers.
For the whole afternoon, people were good-naturedly throwing things at each other, to the extent that when we had a spontaneous burst of hail, Sarah, who was midway through munching on the head of a family-size guinea pig she had purchased, quite seriously said "no guys don’t worry, its not hail, its just popcorn".
It was one of the most entertaining festivals I’ve ever been to - and I think I’m more relieved than disappointed that I didn’t get a better view for the part when they sacrificed a llama and fed its intestines to the performers.
Next week, we're off to Bolivia. The fact that we only have 2 weeks left with our families and at the school after that has become a bit of a taboo topic in the group - Its too painful a thought to worry about just yet.